Friday, December 3, 2010

A choose your own gender adventure

When I say "Choose your own gender," it probably brings to mind thoughts about transgender people, other gender benders, and hopefully the Choose Your Own Adventure novels of some of our childhoods. Despite the implied suggestions of the title, this post is not about transgender people specifically. Instead, I want to encourage the application of "Choose your own gender" to people of all genders, with special encouragement to people who have not transitioned among genders and who may not think this statement applies to them.

In dissecting feminist legal theory in class, we have read from viewpoints supporting widely diverse standpoints on the origin of gender roles, gender or gender typed behavior. Some feminists believe gender results from a cumulative experience of one's many intersecting identities, others argue that gender exists only as inequalities in a dominant power structure. Many academics and law makers view gender as inherent from birth or socially inherent from the contexts of the environments in which people are raised.

The relevance of the origin of gender roles is important and necessary to the consciousness raising process of analyzing the intersections of gender and feminism. I would like to use a transgender lens to emphasize how the matter of choice is often undermined because of the overwhelming social and academic focus on origin.

Transgender and other gender non-conforming persons, as living examples that gender is neither a result of birth assignment, body nor of socialization, help bring attention to the implications of choice in gender. Transgender people recognize that some gender role or gender they have been told should fit them, does not actually fit how they feel or personally identify and they exercise choice to change this. For most folks, this is a big life process (a transition). The application of this same kind of intention and choice can be applied to all people however, regardless of gender and to much smaller and more everyday degrees than entire gender transitions.

Cisgender men and women can ask themselves everyday "Am I doing this male-gender-roled behavior because I think I have to" or "Am I just responding this way because that's how I think women should respond?" Each time a person asks them self where a behavior originates from personally, they create the power within themselves to set intention behind that behavior and reclaim it for themselves, or discard it entirely. We all choose what kind of men we are, what kind of women we are or what kind of transperson we are, and so on. Those choices affect the social fabric around us. For example, if I choose to be the kind of man who does not stand up against sexism amongst my male peers, then that continues to perpetuate the social cycles of misogyny around me.

Exercising active choice around one's gender and how to express it is a subversive act. It is subversive because it takes power and control over an identity away from the dominant social power and returns it to the individual. The more personalized and intentional all our gender narratives become, the more likely it is that our laws will eventually develop towards recognizing such diversity.

Australia is well on its way, becoming the first country to issue a gender neutral birth certificate. This was a huge leap for intersex and transgender communities, as well as all folks who will benefit from less stringent social gender controls. This also speaks to the abilities of the law to evolve alongside the social evolutions of the community it represents.

I hope that as this semester ends, more of my classmates will call themselves feminists and that all of us will approach our genders with little more intention, analyzing and personalization. Despite all the differences among the many kinds of feminism, I think the world needs more feminists of all genders; feminist women (feminist women blog list), feminist men (feminist men's groups), feminist queer and trans folks, and most importantly, feminist children (feminist kids books list).

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